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Migrants must get back on Bibby Stockholm barge despite outrage over legionella, Health Secretary says
14 August 2023, 11:16 | Updated: 14 August 2023, 14:11
The Health Secretary has said he wants migrants to get back on the Bibby Stockholm, despite outrage over the discovery of the potentially deadly legionella bacteria.
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Dorset Council said its staff had discovered legionella on Monday and told government-hired contractors operating the boat the same day. That means some migrants were exposed to the bacteria for four days.
Removing the legionella from the barge's water supply is expected to take about a week.
Health Secretary Steve Barclays said he wanted the migrants to get back on when the barge is ready again.
"It is costing £6 million a day in terms of the cost of hotels," he told Sky News. "It is important that we both maintain safety standards but also reflect the pressure on the taxpayer position in terms of that £6 million."
Mr Barclay added that no one had become ill despite being exposed to legionella.
He told the broadcaster: "My understanding is that no one has. So there has been no concerns in terms of anyone that has been on the barge and all those people are being subject to health assessments."
Legionella can cause Legionnaires' disease, a lung infection that causes flu-like symptoms, coughs, chest pain and shortness of breath.
In extreme cases, it can lead to people coughing up blood. Around one in ten people with Legionnaires' die, according to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Dorset Council has now said it informed the "responsible organisations", barge operators CTM and Landry & Kling, about the preliminary test results on Monday, the same day it received them.
A Home Office official was then told about the discovery on Tuesday, the council said, but Mr Barclay said ministers did not know about the presence of the bacteria until Thursday.
"My understanding from colleagues in the Home Office is it was notified to Home Office ministers on Thursday and they then took very quick action as a result," he said.
A council spokesperson said: "To be clear, it was not Dorset Council's responsibility to inform the Home Office - that responsibility sat with CTM and Landry & King, the companies contracted by the Home Office to operate the barge."
CTM and Landry & Kling have also been contacted for comment.
Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock wrote to his opposite number on Saturday asking what the Home Office knew about the risk of the bacteria being present before moving migrants onto the barge.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis said the barge would not serve as a "solution" to the backlog even without the presence of the bacteria.
He said: "The primary thing that's been revealed has been the startling incompetence of the Home Office itself... It's really, really hard to understand how, at all layers, this could not be caught early".
The senior Conservative MP suggested the problems could be related to "management" of the department rather than "ministerial" issues specifically, but added: "Even working properly, the Bibby barge would only take effectively one day's arrivals.
"So it's not a solution to the problem and all of this is going to go on until the Home Office is able to process these arrivals more quickly."
Tim Loughton said the evacuation was an "embarrassment" and smacked of "incompetence," coming at the end of a week in which the Government had planned a series of announcements aimed at promoting its immigration approach.
The Tory MP told the Telegraph: "This is deeply troubling and rapidly turning into a farce that the Home Office can ill afford."
But the government still plans to expand its fleet of floating migrant barges, as well as office and student accommodation blocks.
All six migrants were Afghan men, French authorities said.
More than 50 people were rescued from the ship that was crossing the channel, including children.
A patrol boat told authorities that a migrant boat was sinking off the French town of Sangatte at around 4am on Saturday, France's Maritime Prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea said.
Local mayor Franck Dhersin said dozens of boats were trying to make the crossing at the same time.